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MOZART’S SISTER by Rita Charbonnier


by Rita Charbonnier & translated by Ann Goldstein

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-307-34678-0
Publisher: Crown

The highly fictionalized story of a thwarted musical genius.

Before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's father displayed the tiny prodigy's talents to the courts of Europe, he nurtured the talent of Wolfgang's older sister, Nannerl, whose virtuosity equaled her brother's. Charbonnier's first novel presents the slim facts of Nannerl's life in a rather tortured story of a brilliant musician thrust into oblivion by her domineering father. He orders Nannerl to give piano lessons to support the family while he accompanies Wolfgang as he pursues fame across Europe. Armand d'Ippold, the father of one of her pupils, recognizes the sensitive soul behind Nannerl's cold façade. Their correspondence offers her an outlet through which she can express both her unhappiness and her love of music. The tedious leitmotif of Nannerl's frustrations weighs down the story, which in other areas is strong. One of the best parts of the book is the upstairs/downstairs look at life in imperial Austria, rich with stratified social relations. Another is the way in which Charbonnier brings Nannerl's relationship with music to life, from the joy in composing to interpreting a score to the physical nuances of performing. The crisis point in the story, the broken engagement to d'Ippold, is sharply drawn while the more interesting conflict, the decay of Nannerl's relationship with Wolfgang, is attenuated and blurred. Charbonnier plunks in some historical figures—Wolfgang's wife Constance and his rival Salieri, whom Nannerl meets after Wolfgang's death—in an effort to add verisimilitude, if not much meaning or depth.

An intriguing if somewhat uneven novel.